Trojans’ backcourt will determine team’s success

The USC men’s basketball team, led by former Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield, will look to improve both the results on the court and the attendance at the Galen Center. And to propel Enfield’s fast-paced offense, which helped lead his old team to the Sweet 16, the Trojans will have to depend on strong guard play.

Last year at Florida Gulf Coast, guards Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson led the Eagles with 15.5 and 14.3 points per game, respectively, with Thompson also averaging 2.8 steals per game. Point guard Brett Comer set the tone as the facilitator for the offense, averaging 6.6 assists per game.

Despite most focusing on how USC will replicate Enfield’s high-flying offense, Enfield said he is paying just as much attention to the team’s defense, which will be tested in a strong Pac-12 conference that boasts three teams in the Associated Press preseason Top 25.

“My team last year was 16th in the nation in steals at nine per game, so it’s a big point of emphasis for us,” Enfield said about his defense. “Get deflections, get steals. We play in man, we play in zone, we’ll press a little bit, we’ll mix our defenses up — but we have to be ready to go. We have to execute, no question. You get in transition easiest when you steal the ball or get a long rebound. We averaged nine steals a game last year and that was [nine] chances to run.”

The guards on USC’s roster are a mix of new faces and battle-tested veterans who will need to maintain a high level of play to keep the offense firing on all cylinders.

Junior Byron Wesley serves as the most experienced member of the backcourt. He’s played more games (64) than any current Trojan, starting each except for one while averaging 33.2 minutes per game in his career. He averaged 10.2 points (third on the team) and 4.3 rebounds per game last season, along with being second on the team with 61 assists. Wesley is likely to start for the Trojans in their season opener.

Senior J.T. Terrell brings exceptional shooting ability, having averaged 11.7 points and 2.1 rebounds in 2012-13. He hit 67 three-pointers, which is the 11th-most in a single season in USC history, and shot 76.4 percent from the free-throw line, leading all USC players. And though Terrell seems likely to be out there at shooting guard for the opening tipoff, it’s unclear how Enfield will choose his starting lineup to best run his system.

“We have a lot of athletic players who can get up and down, so I think the style really complements the players that we have and the format that we like to play,” senior point guard Pe’Shon Howard said.

The Trojan backcourt will also see plenty of new members of the basketball program, with two transfers in Howard and sophomore guard Katin Reinhardt joining the roster along with three freshmen. First-year guards Kahlil Dukes, Julian Jacobs and Devon Pflueger will all look to make immediate contributions during what is being pegged by pundits as a transitional season. But if USC’s newcomers all make a big impact and come close to replicating the numbers they put up at their previous schools, it’s certainly possible the Trojans could contend for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Dukes averaged 23.9 points, 3.9 assists and 3.0 steals per game as a senior at Capital Prep Magnet School, and should provide Enfield with another scoring threat.

Jacobs was named Nevada’s Player of the Year by the Las Vegas Review-Journal during his senior year of high school after averaging 16.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.2 steals per game at Desert Pines High.

Pflueger averaged 9.5 points per game at Junipero Serra Catholic High (Gardena, Calif.), hitting 45.9 percent of his threes and 49 percent overall before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

Howard, who is eligible to start immediately at USC after three seasons at Maryland, has 84 games (44 starts) of college experience, along with 20 games of five or more assists. He averaged 3.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 36 games with the Terrapins, helping lead them to the NIT semifinals.

“This is a different style and a different atmosphere for everybody,” Howard said about the changes. “The coaches are really positive and upbeat. We like to play fast.”

Reinhardt, who transferred from UNLV, has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. He started 34 of UNLV’s 35 games, finishing fourth on the team with 10.1 points per game, second with 86 assists and first with 65 three-pointers made.

The Trojan backcourt is rounded out with sophomores Chass Bryan and Brendyn Taylor and redshirt senior Daniel Munoz. Bryan is fast and disruptive at both ends on the floor, serving as another strong option for coach Enfield despite his walk-on status. Taylor gives the Trojans a strong defensive presence, while Munoz gives the Trojans experience off the bench.

USC opens up the regular season on the road on Friday at 8 p.m. against Utah State. Their home opener is on Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. against Cal State Northridge.


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